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New Left Review 82, July-August 2013

Tony Wood


One of the most striking features of the recent wave of global protests, from Athens to Occupy, Tahrir Square to Taksim, has been the profusion of images and slogans they have generated, a creative ferment that has fired radical imaginations in one country after another. [1] Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, Sternberg Press: Berlin 2012, €12, paperback, 198 pp, 978 1 934105 82 5 Yet the successes that many of these movements have achieved in the realm of discourse—the concept of ‘the 99 per cent’, for example, is now common currency—for the moment far outstrip any actual political gains. There are several possible explanations for this disparity: the sheer weight of elite power and privilege, the absence of fully worked-out programmes for radical change, combinations of co-optation and repression. But is it possible that the gap between the two forms of representation—political on the one hand, cultural on the other—is a constitutive feature of contemporary reality? And that the explosion of communication enabled by new technologies and social media, as well as bringing ever more people onto the political stage, is simultaneously a mechanism for the exclusion of millions of others? According to the art critic and film-maker Hito Steyerl, the link between political and cultural representation, never straightforward, has become profoundly unstable in the image-saturated neoliberal era; we live in ‘an age of unrepresentable people and an overpopulation of images’, in which ‘a growing number of unmoored and floating images corresponds to a growing number of disenfranchised, invisible or even disappeared or missing people’.

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Tony Wood, ‘Reserve Armies of the Imagination’, NLR 82: £3

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